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HMS Unicorn (I72)

Maintenance Aircraft Carrier

United Kingdom | 1943

"HMS Unicorn 71 became a veteran of World War 2 and served with distinction during the Korean War."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 11/02/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The aircraft carrier came of age in World War 2 (1939-1945) and supplanted the battleship as the primary capital ship of the world's navies. The ship type was used to excellent effect by the Allies in the re-taking of the Pacific from the Empire of Japan and remained a prominent fixture of naval warfare in the subsequent Korean War (1950-1953) and Vietnam War (1955-1975). The British Royal Navy of World War 2 fielded an impressive collection of aircraft-carrying warships and one of the more specialized vessels was the HMS Unicorn (I72).

HMS Unicorn was developed around the concept of a light carrier and used as a maintenance carrier in support of fleet ships. Light carriers were constructed to smaller dimensions than their larger sisters and carried half or less the aircraft. They did feature exceptional speed for their size, could be constructed at a fraction of the cost and were deployable on long voyages in deep water while also serving as fleet defenders and convoy escorts.

As built, HMS Unicorn displaced 16,770 tons under standard load and up to 20,600 tons under full load. Her length was 640 feet with a beam of over 90 feet and a draught reaching 23 feet. Power was from 4 x Admiralty water-tube boilers feeding 2 x Parsons geared steam turbines driving 40,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts under stern. Her crew complement numbered 1,200 under wartime conditions and armor ranged from 2" along the flight deck to 1.5" at the bulkheads. The vessel could carry about 33 aircraft of various makes and models. The Type 281B fit made up her early warning radar system and a pair of Type 285 systems were fitted as gunnery radars.

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Fitted armament, intended mainly for self-defense or cover of other ships from air attack, included 4x2 QF 4" Mk XVI Dual-Purpose (DP) guns, 4x4 2-pounder Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns, 2x2 20mm Oerlikon AA guns and 8x1 20mm Oerlikon AA guns.

HMS Unicorn was ordered on April 14th, 1939 as part of the Royal Navy's 1938 Naval Expansion Programme with the intent that she serve primarily as a depot / maintenance vessel. However, while still under construction, she was reworked to launch and retrieve aircraft to broaden her strategic value considerably all the while retaining her fleet maintenance/support-minded capabilities. She was launched on November 20th, 1941 as Britain was fully committed to World War 2. Completed in March of 1943, Unicorn began her career in Mediterranean waters and participated in the Allied amphibious landings at Salerno, Italy in September. From there she undertook actions in the Atlantic Ocean before relocating to Indian waters as part of the Eastern Fleet.

The warship served alongside fleet carriers and became a part of the British Pacific Fleet after November 1944. In May of 1945 she served in the Okinawa invasion and conducted supply runs from the Philippines and Admiralty Islands. The war ended in August of 1945 with the Japanese surrender. This led Unicorn to be decommissioned for the first time in January of 1946 at which point she was placed in reserve in British waters.

To support operations by the Far East Fleet, HMS Unicorn was recommissioned in 1949 and was stationed in Singapore during June of 1950 when war between the Koreas was declared. From then on, the warship was part of the critical operations to unseat the invaders by conducting supply runs (manpower, spare parts, aircraft) for Commonwealth forces. The British contingent included five light carriers and no fewer than thirteen naval air squadrons for its part in the bloody affair. Her guns were also used in anger at one point when she shelled North Korean elements along the coastline. At the end of the war she returned to British home waters and was set in reserve once again, decommissioned for a second time on November 17th, 1953. Her stripped hulk was scrapped in 1959 bringing about her formal end.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one sea-going vessel design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for HMS Unicorn (I72).
4 x Admiralty water-tube boiler units feeding 2 x Parsons geared steam turbines developing 40,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts.
24.0 kts
27.6 mph
Surface Speed
7,039 nm
8,100 miles | 13,036 km
The bow-to-stern, port-to-starboard physical qualities of HMS Unicorn (I72).
640.0 ft
195.07 meters
O/A Length
90.2 ft
27.49 meters
23.0 ft
7.01 meters
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of HMS Unicorn (I72).
4 x 2 QF 4" Mk XVI Dual-Purpose (DP) guns
4 x 4 2-pounder Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns
2 x 2 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
8 x 1 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
Air Arm
Available supported fixed-wing / rotary-wing aircraft featured in the design of HMS Unicorn (I72).
Up to 33 aircraft of various makes and models.
Ships-in-Class (1)
Notable series variants as part of the HMS Unicorn (I72) family line as relating to the HMS Unicorn group.
HMS Unicorn (I72)
Global operator(s) of the HMS Unicorn (I72). Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national naval warfare listing.
National flag of the United Kingdom

[ United Kingdom ]
1 / 1
Image of the HMS Unicorn (I72)
Image from the archives of the United States Navy.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to seaborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
HMS Unicorn (I72) Maintenance Aircraft Carrier appears in the following collections:
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